By Keith Strain
The connection between the film and the video game industry has been established since 1993 when Super Mario Bros. jumped its way onto the big screen, but whether the relationship
has been mutually beneficial for the two is up for debate. One would think translating an already established story and formula into another form of entertainment would be a sure-fire success. However, the only thing certain about cinema is that nothing is for sure. To be clear, I am looking at movies that are based on video games franchises, the topic of bad movies based on gaming – such as Ready Player One and Pixels – is its own ordeal.
We have gone long past the era of ‘90s cheese and its corny film quality. This time period gave us films like the aforementioned Super Mario Bros. and the Street Fighter movie starring action legend Jean Claude van Damme. These movies show us how out of touch with game concepts Hollywood was at the time, as one was set in a parallel universe where dinosaurs still existed and the other has a weird hostage plot which would make one believe the creators never played Street Fighter. Just a glimpse of the two movies would tell you what era they came from. However, there is one bright spot from this decade of video game movies – 1995’s Mortal Kombat. The film quality may be three decades old, but the story and the characters hold true to their video game counterparts, with some performances even adding more depth to some fighters while keeping the same concept. I do not think there are many that will say this is an amazing movie, but the fun that can be achieved with it is certainly a step in the right direction.
A step back is without a doubt the Uwe Boll video game movies of the 2000s. The filmmaker managed to pull together three licenses with Far Cry, Postal, and Blood Rayne and managed to make all three of them terrible. Boll had a big part in creating a stigma of bad video game movies, but the decade’s roster of other movies did not help. You had the Tomb Raider movies that starred Angelina Jolie, as well as Max Payne, a movie that does hold true to the game but contains the same bad qualities that you see in terrible movies. The big money movie – Doom, starring The Rock – was a loose adaptation of the original video game. Its best element was the BFG, but besides that it was just more rubbish. I think the only highlight of this decade is the Hitman movie, which had its moments such as the hotel set piece, but that was the only saving grace in a series of disappointments.
The 2000’s was not friendly to video game movies, and to start off the 2010’s, things got worse. A movie that I got to see in cinemas was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Looking back, it was a movie that laid the groundwork for failures such as John Carter. It was bland and seemed to be devoid of any passion, but watching it as a kid, it was fine. After this, it took four years for a non-sequel video game movie, when Need for Speed came onto the scene to try and grab the Fast and the Furious fans’ attention, starring Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul. The movie failed to create much positivity around it besides doing great commercially in China. We had three more stinkers straight after with another Hitman movie, a gigantic bore in Warcraft and technically another Prince of Persia movie, with Assassin’s Creed also coming to the big screen.
Two decades on from Super Mario Bros. and it still was not looking great for game movies. Then, we had a new Tomb Raider with Alicia Vikander, and Dwayne Johnson returning to the genre with Rampage, a fun ride which proved that movies with big monkeys will always be a success. An upside to video game movies was starting to show and with Detective Pikachu’s release it showed there can be good all-around movies based on video games. The movie held true to the spirit of Pokémon and managed to add its own fun elements to the foundation laid by the video games. With Sonic The Hedgehog following up its success it truly was a bright spot for the genre after a series of disappointments.
The future for video game movies is again not for certain, but there is room for cautious optimism with sequels lined up for Tomb Raider and Sonic, as well as exciting projects such as the Uncharted movie and The Last of Us going to television. A standout in the future is an animated Mario Bros. film that can right the wrong of how video game adaptations started on the big screen with its predecessor.